After six days on the road, I sat down with my computer to download (or is it upload?) the 100s of pictures I had taken on this family trip to visit Skye in west Texas. They were gone! Gone!
Yes, I’d been having some intermittent trouble with my camera. Sometimes the message on the viewing screen would flash, telling me to reformat the picture card. At other times, the screen message would tell me there were no pictures, although I knew I’d taken many. Prior to this trip, in each case, it had been a simple matter of taking out the picture card and reinserting it into my camera. Recently, I’d purchased a new picture card at the urging of a camera specialist who found nothing wrong with the camera itself. But, today, was different…
The computer, recognizing my camera, told me there were 70 pictures to download. The number 70 only grazed my conscious mind, as there was a rowdy game of SpongeBob Cranium going on behind me between John, Journey, and Becton. Beyond those three, the TV was turned up loud for the avid watchers of “Duck Dynasty” – Skye, Emily, and K.J. While the activities around me continued, I began the process of editing my pictures on the computer. First came pictures of Becton’s 3rd grade holiday party at school. Big sister Emily had come with me as a special treat for Becton.
Then came the trip pictures. The family was playing basketball in the gym at Skye’s school. Xavior was chasing balls. Oh, and here was a picture I could show to K.J. to help him correct his shot form. There was Skye tackling Emily for the ball in a game of two-on-two. That is the closest Skye will ever come to playing the game!…
Wait a minute. Where’s Christmas? Where’s Christmas?!! Where were the 100s of pictures I’d taken prior to our fun at the gym? In particular, where was Christmas present unwrapping? Where were the group shots of the seven of us together, dressed in our new holiday fleece? Those were great pictures. I’d seen them on the viewing screen. I knew they existed. They had to!
I took the picture card out of the camera again and reinserted it into the card reader and plugged it into my computer. No more pictures. Nothing. I put the card back into the camera. My screen read: “File Does Not Contain Image Data.” I cried out: “My pictures are gone!”
John tried to trouble-shoot. He went through all the steps of my process. He searched my computer for possible locations where the pictures were “hiding.” He, too, found nothing. I sat down in a recliner and Journey crawled into my lap trying to comfort me. “Christmas is gone,” I despaired. “No, it isn’t, Mom. Remember how…” and Journey proceeded to recount some of the events our trip, including Christmas morning. She continued, “Even if we don’t have the pictures, we have it here” and she pointed to her head.
As hard as Journey tried to make me feel better, I could not climb out of my misery. Family members promised we would retake the group picture tomorrow. “Yes,” I thought, “That will help. But the images of Christmas morning – of the kids seeing Skye after four months, of the gift giving and receiving, will be gone. We can’t recreate the feelings I captured in my pictures.” A few minutes later, we all prepared for and went to our respective beds.
I climbed under the covers and sank deeper into my despair. I could not sleep. This was awful. I’d given Skye an empty photo album for Christmas, promising to fill it with pictures from our trip and visit. I’d planned a pictorial presentation to the family back home of all we had done and seen on this trip. Now I had nothing to show for all my planning. What a disaster!
As I lay in bed, I realized how dependent I had become on pictures to tell my stories. The expressions and emotions. The scenery. The important events of our lives. They were all captured on film or, in later years, in digital images. What did I have without them?
Journey’s words came to mind. We still had the memories in our heads, she said. Was that enough?
I thought about my weeks of preparation for this trip. I thought of sitting in front of my computer with my AAA Triptik planner, plotting our route. I thought of collecting the maps and tour books from AAA and researching what we would do and see along our route. I thought of researching dog-friendly motels and making the calls for reservations. I thought of trips alone or with Journey and Emily to buy gifts for Christmas day. I remembered secretly wrapping the gifts and storing them in boxes for the trip. I thought of the careful record keeping insuring that equal amounts were spent on each gift recipient. I thought of ironing letters on stockings to personalize the nine of them – seven human and two dogs – and stuffing them with goodies to match each personality. I thought of selecting the games and crafts, the packing lists created to make sure each person had just the right clothes, the new tires for the van, and so forth.
We left Atlanta on Friday after school ended and drove 300 miles to Meridian, Mississippi. I was the driver and John, with his wealth of knowledge about gadgets and chargers, was my co-pilot. Emily, Journey, Katie (Journey’s dog), and Xavior (Skye’s dog) sat on the row and floor behind us — after much negotiation over space. The boys, K.J. and Becton, sat behind them. The last row in our 12-passenger van had been removed to allow space for the “secret gifts,” luggage, food, drinks, etc. At Journey’s request, we stopped at a Golden Corral for dinner and stuffed ourselves. We arrived at the Jameson Inn that night: girls and dogs in one room, boys in the other room.
After breakfast at the motel on Day Two, we loaded up and began our 320-mile drive to Shreveport, Louisiana. Along the way, we stopped in Jackson, MS at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry/National Agriculture Aviation Museum. Journey was not happy about stopping and made me miserable as the target of her whining. But, for the most part, the family had an enjoyable time touring the main building exhibits that told the history of Mississippi farmers and lumber-persons, and walking through the recreated 1920s farm town. We bought candy, drinks, and simple toys at the General Store. (Pictures missing.) We arrived at the LaQuinta Inn in Shreveport early enough for me to take the dogs for a run.
On Day Three, we drove 180 miles to Dallas, Texas, and visited the Sixth Floor Museum to learn about John F. Kennedy’s assassination and presidency. We then drove to Fair Park, a 277-acre national historic landmark and site of a Worlds Fair. There were nine museums, six performance facilities, the Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the old Cotton Bowl stadium. Unfortunately, because it was a holiday weekend, everything was closed. Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking around and the dogs enjoyed the freedom to run. Finding an acceptable place to eat was difficult. We were directed to Two Podnars, a southern BBQ joint where Becton selected a giant turkey leg for lunch and then refused to eat it. The dogs benefitted from Becton’s folly. (Pictures missing.)
Our night in Dallas was spent at another LaQuinta Inn. John and I found an artsy neighborhood to walk the dogs while the kids watched TV. I ran in the quiet of Christmas Eve the following morning. John and the dogs met me, and we walked some more. The family ate breakfast and began our long drive – 430 miles – on Day 4. We stopped in Ft. Worth to tour Stockyard Station, a shopping and restaurant area that was once the largest livestock market in the Southwest. The Livestock Exchange building and other original buildings remain. Much to Journey’s chagrin, we stayed to watch the longhorn “cattle drive” down Main Street. The kids bought souvenirs, including a bow and arrow set and a rubber-band gun, in one of the stores. (Pictures missing.)
The drive to Pecos, Texas, was long and relatively boring. We stopped to eat lunch at Chili’s and then visited a Super Wal-Mart to buy groceries in anticipation of the Christmas holiday store closings. We arrived that Christmas Eve night at the Quality Inn, and I spent the next few hours doing laundry.
I awoke on Christmas morning before dawn and took the dogs out for a run along the dark, deserted highway. We were almost blown away by the high winds. We returned to wake up the family and urge them on to breakfast so that we could drive the last 75 miles to meet Skye at our appointed time between 9 and 10 o’clock. Excitement built as we entered the campus of the High Frontier, south of Ft. Davis, Texas.
As we pulled into the parking lot, Skye emerged from her dorm and rushed into my arms. Releasing me, she then greeted Xavior with squeals of delight and tears. She turned to each family member, embracing them in warm hugs. Becton, who had fretted about this trip and worried that Santa would never find us in Texas, exclaimed: “This is the best Christmas ever!” (Pictures missing.)
We loaded Skye and her gear into the van and headed back up the road to the Terrell house, a two-bedroom home on campus for visitors. While the family unloaded their luggage and put the groceries away, I found the special Santa letter and box, and secretively placed them on the back porch. I also moved the boxes of Christmas gifts to the front porch and went inside to join the others. I gathered the family and said, “I got a call from Santa. He said that you need to look on the back porch.” Becton led a mad dash to the porch and the kids found the box. Skye opened the letter and read:
Dear Becton, Journey, Skye, K.J., and Emily,
This is a different kind of Christmas for you. It’s different because one of you – Skye – was hurting and needed help away from home. This Christmas is about bringing all of you and your parents together to celebrate and remember how special your family is – with or without gifts.
As I’ve watched your naughty and nice behavior this year, I’ve realized that the best gift you can receive this Christmas is each other. That doesn’t mean you won’t receive presents wrapped in holiday paper. What it means is that some of your gifts emphasize working together and supporting one another and others in your community. I want you to remember that. It’s the message the baby Jesus brought to the world: Love one another. Forgive. Share what you have. Help others in need.
Before you open any other gift, I want you to open this special box from me. Put these on and remember each of your siblings wears the same message. You don’t need to stay stuck where you are. You have the power, with the help of each other, to be the change you want to see in the world.
Now go have some fun. Ho! Ho! Ho!
The kids assisted each other in putting on their necklaces. I then announced that Santa also mentioned something about the front porch… The stockings came next. Then the gift unwrapping began in our usual fashion – orderly, one at a time – and dissolved (also as usual) into impatience and random chaos. (Pictures missing.)
The final gifts for the kids were in separate small boxes. Each box contained a promise of a larger gift that required the recipient to stretch him or herself by making money, reaching out to peers, or meeting other goals pertaining to the individual’s needs and development. It was a joyous occasion.
I then requested a group photo in our new outfits. We posed on the back porch with dogs while the camera’s self-timer allowed us all to be present in the photos – or so I thought.
Following a Christmas lunch of pasta and goodies, Skye toured us around the campus. We would play games, watch movies, hike, and share fellowship, stories, and even engage in our own family therapy session over the next days. My pictures begin with our time in the gym.
There will be more of this story to tell in a future post (or posts). We were able to take another family photo…
Family photo The missing pictures would have been treasured. But, as Journey reminded me, we have our memories and – best of all – we have each other!